The three 'suicide theories' of Susan Rohde's death

Advocate presents closing argument day before verdict

07 November 2018 - 16:46 By Tanya Farber
Property mogul Jason Rohde on the stand in the Cape Town High Court on May 29 2018. Rohde is accused of murdering his wife Susan.
Property mogul Jason Rohde on the stand in the Cape Town High Court on May 29 2018. Rohde is accused of murdering his wife Susan.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

At 10am on Thursday, Jason Rohde will hear his fate. Will he be a free man who can get on with his life, or a man marked for what could be decades incarcerated in the South African prison system?

On Wednesday afternoon, his advocate Graham van der Spuy painted the picture of a shattered man who was not capable of violence. He pointed to testimonies that had unfolded in the lengthy trial in which it was stated, “The accused most certainly does not have the profile of somebody who resorts to violence to resolve a conflict. He is non-confrontational.”

As for his wife Susan, whose death at the luxury Spier Wine Estate sent shock waves across the country in July of 2016, Van der Spuy says there are three theories which explained what happened - all of which include Susan taking her own life.

“My submission is that the deceased died at her own hand and that the evidence overwhelmingly supports that,” he said, adding she may have “consciously committed suicide” when she went into the bathroom and possibly thought to herself, ‘this is it, I can’t take it anymore - I have lost the battle’.

The advocate said that her decision in that case might have been made when she returned to the hotel room at the conference (where Rohde had met his mistress on the sly somewhere on the estate) and found him “deleting a message he had sent from the bathroom.”

That, coupled with “a bit too much too drink”, might have broken her back emotionally and could explain her “bizarre behaviour of trailing around behind him” after he intimated in strong terms that he was going to seek a divorce. This, postulated Van der Spuy, might have been why she could not face life anymore and hanged herself in the bathroom.

Another explanation he gave was that she wished to “simulate a suicide as a cry for help” but that it went “miserably wrong”.

“It is amazing how quickly unconsciousness occurs after a ligature is applied to the neck - it happens within seconds,” he said.

Van der Spuy said that although he had not himself taken part in the sexual fetish of auto-erotic asphyxiation, deadly cases related to the practice showed that many people didn’t realize how quickly one dies when there is something tight around the neck.

“The point of no return is very quickly reached,” he said.

His third theory was that Susan Rohde was engaged in an experiment of sorts - an attempt to see what it took to commit suicide - but didn’t plan on dying that day.

“It could have been a simulated experiment but before she knew it, the dye was cast,” he said.

He argued the state’s allegation that Rohde murdered his wife in the bedroom and then transported her to the bathroom to create a fake suicide was not possible when no DNA was found to corroborate that, and no carpet fibres were found on her body.

“This whole scenario is surmised on the part of the state simply because she was found in the bathroom,” he said.

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